Social media, the ultimate career-squasher

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy, Social networks, Twitter

Secret lifeYour resume may well be spellchecked and gleaming on the finest heavy-stock paper you could find, but 56% of employers are probably going to augment that information by peeking under the covers and into your potentially grimy little social life.

That's part of the findings that psychologists at UK business psychology firm OPP are presenting this week at the British Psychological Society conference on occupational psychology.

One of the papers they'll be presenting covers the findings of a 2011 study into the use of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

An OPP post details other tasty statistics about how their respondents - 1,000 people of working age in the UK and Ireland - use social media.

Here are some more stats:

56% of respondents said that they were likely to check out the social media presence of potential employees (although 27% of those surveyed said they would be uncomfortable with the same being done to them). On the flipside, 37% of people said they change their persona online - so looking at their online presence may be misleading anyway.

OPP points to recent instances of people getting into hot water over social media use. One such is the case of John Flexman, a former HR executive who parted ways with his company in June 2011 after he posted his CV and checked off the "Career opportunities" box on his LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn user asking to be contacted about career opportunities

The Telegraph noted that Mr. Flexman is thought to be the first person in the UK to bring a case for constructive dismissal over the dispute with his bosses.

The shores of the U.S., of course, are littered with the flotsam of social media collisions, particularly if you include sexting, Craig's List and elected officials.

Some samples of well-known people whose internet-enabled frolickings have caused them to join the world's unemployed population:

  • Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, former duck voice for the advertisements of U.S. insurance company Aflac, canned in March 2011 after callously tweeting about Japan's earthquake disaster.

Tweet from Gilbert Gottfried

  • Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), resigned in June 2011 after sexting a photo of his underwear-tented erection to a 21-year-old he contacted via Craig's List (aka Weinergate).
  • April 2009: Two Domino's Pizza employees add mucus and intestinal gas to food preparation, post a documentary video of it on YouTube (since removed), and wind up fired and in jail on charges on felony counts.
  • U.S. Rep. Chris Lee, (R-N.Y.), a "fit, fun, classy guy," as he described himself while flirting with/sending a bare-chested photo of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. The indiscretions of Mr. You Are So Not 39 include adultery and shaving seven years off his real age. Lee resigned in February 2011 within hours of Gawker revealing the sexting. To judge for yourself if he needs to shave other areas, check out ABC News's coverage.

Chris Lee's chest self-portrait

OPP has some good common sense advice on avoiding replicating these unseemly circumstances. Some excerpts of their advice:

Employees: Lock down your Facebook profile, and behave on LinkedIn as you would at a professional networking event (without the free bar!).

Employers: Misuse of social media could result in accusations of discrimination or unfair dismissal, or simply damage an organisation's reputation. Employers need to tread carefully to avoid breaking the law, avoiding racist, sexist or anti-religious biases that might surface, particularly when the online search may be done in private and not be documented - which is a prime time for prejudice to occur.

Having a clearly stated policy on use of social networking sites in recruitment is crucial, as well as keeping comprehensive records of how you came to decisions about who to interview and employ. But the crux of the advice is really to consider, as for all selection methods, whether the source of information is actually relevant in any way to the job being offered. If not, why use it?

Now that Facebook's got a Timeline on you, perhaps it would be good to do a bit of cleaning for the new year.

Creating a scrubbed version of yourself for job-seeking purposes is a good idea.

While you're at it, remind your children that going viral on YouTube might seem fun now, but the internet never forgets.

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10 Responses to Social media, the ultimate career-squasher

  1. Tyw7 · 1013 days ago

    What if you have NO linkedin accounts? Would they [employers] discriminate against that?

  2. In the same respect if your social network presence is professional then its probably an advantage

  3. Randy H · 1012 days ago

    The article fails to mention that in today's job market, the probability of actually landing a job is directly related to who you know. Thus your presence on a social network represents an advantage rather than a risk. As long as your posting content is clean and professional, it's better to stay connected.

    • That's a very good point.

      The trouble is, "professional" and "inappropriate" are highly subjective, and I've lost count of the number of stern warnings I've read which fail to give examples of the sorts of things they mean. But I think it's probably a mistake to lock down everything and keep all public information as bland and boring as possible.

      That said, I've certainly seen examples of people I wouldn't hire (or, for that matter, date) on the basis of their online behaviour. One of the worst I've seen was a really ugly flame war on, of all places, LinkedIn.

      If you've got any Internet presence at all, you have to accept that what you write will speak volumes about your personality, thought processes and motivations.

    • That's a very good point.

      One problem is that "professional" and "inappropriate" are highly subjective. The article give some more extreme and unambiguous examples, but I've lost count of the number of stern warnings I've read which fail to give examples of the sorts of things they mean.

      That said, I've certainly seen examples of people I wouldn't hire (or, for that matter, date) on the basis of their online behaviour. One of the worst I've seen was a really ugly flame war on, of all places, LinkedIn.

      I think it's probably a mistake to lock down everything and keep all public information as bland and boring as possible. If you've got any Internet presence at all, you have to accept that what you write will speak volumes about your personality, thought processes and motivations.

      • Lisa Vaas · 1006 days ago

        I decided pretty recently to avoid censoring anything about myself that's non-bland, within reason, of course, and without distributing photos that would mortify my mother. But a lot of that is pretty subjective. I'm a freelance writer, and I don't think people expect a suit and tie primness out of my lot. If I were an investment banker, I'm sure I wouldn't post half of what I do. Instead of posting reviews of Boston burlesque shows, say, the investment banker me would need to name-drop to show off my fabulous network of Satan's minions.

  4. Brewfinger · 1012 days ago

    I'm still confused as to how they (bosses and such) can get around privacy settings. My Facebook profile isn't available for public viewing, and I really don''t think I'd go accepting any friend requests from my boss/employer... I'd sure hate to think that I might be told that I would be required to "friend" a boss as a condition of employment.

    • Rana · 1012 days ago

      You'd be surprised how many people don't take advantage of the privacy settings, either because they don't know how to use them, or believe that they have nothing to be ashamed of (or won't get caught).

  5. Robert · 1011 days ago

    How about people like me who don't use social media at all?

    If asked why not, I'd say I'm too smart to use such insecure websites with multiple and
    serious security risks.

    How do you think I'll be treated under those circumstances by HR?

  6. Lisa Vaas · 984 days ago

    Depends on a) what job you're applying for (a company like Sophos would look pretty damn favorably on your attitude, believe me) and b) how smart the gatekeepers are—i.e., the HR people or recruiters who sift through the resumes. If you're unlucky enough to apply for a position with un-savvy gatekeepers, well, you won't be treated any way at all by HR, since they'll have passed you over completely.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.